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Old 02-18-2012, 12:59 PM   #1
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Default Question on isolation exercises and machines

Great material on this site but I am confused about the value of machines and isolation exercises. If you're not training for only strength when could you or when should you use isolation exercises or machines?
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Old 02-18-2012, 01:10 PM   #2
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I think there's two things to bear in mind here:

1) Where to put them in a routine
2) When to add them to a routine

In terms of where, they will never be the main exercises of any routine. When compiling a list of the most effective exercises for mass most types of free weight exercises will be superior. But I used to like isolation/machine exercises for those days when you still want to work a bodypart but are perhaps going to go light.

Example 1 - A chest portion of an intermediate bodybuilder routine:

Day 1: Bench Press 5 x 5
Day 2: Machine Press 5 x 15
Day 3: Incline Press 5 x 12

So in this case the machine/iso exercise is being used to split up the week and provide some light work between heavier sessions.

Example 2 - A chest routine of a more advanced natural bodybuilder.

Day 1: Bench Presses 5 x 5 , Incline DB Bench 5 x 10

Day 2: Pullovers 5 x 15, Machine Presses 5 x 15

Day 3: Incline Presses 5 x 12 , Machine Flyes 5 x 12

In this example machines/iso's are used to provide extra work however the core of the routine is/are still free weight exercises.

So we've considered where now if we discuss when a little. The when is really determined by your own needs, a beginner can still make good progress doing 3 basic exercises per bodypart spread across the week and that would be my recommendation. Once progress on that has been exhausted further work can be added and this should usually be in the form of isolation exercises which don't aggravate joints and/or tendons. Obviously there is a cap to this volume increase, you can't keep adding volume but that will depend on factors such as work capacity and goals.

Hope that answers your question.
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Old 02-18-2012, 01:18 PM   #3
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To add to that last point about when;

Never ... is also another good option. In that I don't believe they are a necessity and I didn't want my post to indicate that. But if you are set on including them, those would be my guidelines.
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Old 02-18-2012, 01:49 PM   #4
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I was thinking about isolation lifts last night, because this is a recurring question. I will try not to be long winded in how I view their usage.

First, when I look at bodybuilding programming I place my main pieces into the puzzle. These are the big compound movements:
  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bench Press
  • Overhead Press
  • Rows
  • Dips
  • Chins/Pull Ups
  • Stiff leg Deadlifts/Glute Ham Raise
  • Olympic Variarions (If used)
  • Power Shrugs (If used)

These include variations, of course. Workouts usually include multiple variations of each during the week. For example, you might do overhead press on a heavy day and Arnold dumbbell presses on a moderate/medium day.

Next, I see if any of the following fit in or are needed within a specific split/workout:
  • Calf Raises
  • Barbell and Dumbbell Curls (Or Hammer/Pinwheel Curls)
  • French Press or Seated Dumbbell Extensions
  • Skullcrushers
  • Ab Work
  • Side Bends
  • Grip Work - Static Holds
  • Shoulder/Rotator Cuff Pre-hab/Rehab
  • Pullovers

Obviously we are moving into isolation range here.

After this point, if there are holes lacking in the workout due to equipment restrictions or special needs, I would next consider exercises like:
  • Leg Press
  • Walking Lunge
  • Cable Rows/Machine T-Bar Rows
  • Hammer Strength Overhead Press
  • Hammer Strength Bench Press
  • Assisted Pull Ups Machine
  • Assisted Dips Machine
  • Cable Tricep Extension
  • Lat Pull Down
  • Upright Row

When working with bad gyms, limited equipment, etc., you want to choose isolation and machine exercises that allow for the most progression.

After this we are left with isolation lifts that generally provide very little progression of weight, unless a bodybuilder starts to cheat these lifts. These could be used on a light day, or as finishers. (Rest pause, FST-7 style, "down the rack" sets, supersetted with a compound lift, etc.)
  • Flyes
  • Side Laterals
  • Pec Dec
  • Concentration Curls
  • Forearm Curls
  • Preacher Curls
  • Tricep Kickbacks
  • Leg Extensions
  • Leg Curl
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Old 02-18-2012, 07:54 PM   #5
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As others have mentioned, your routine should be built primarily on big, compound movements. I've found the best way to use isolation movements is after I've already done the compound movements. A set of bench press, for example, could be followed up later with skull crushers/nosebreakers later in the workout.

Some training philosophies call for doing isolation movements before a compound lift. The idea is to "pre exhaust" a muscle--like doing a set of flyes right before you do bench press. I've tried this but stopped--seems like the risk of injury is just too great.
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Old 02-18-2012, 11:14 PM   #6
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Good info!
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